Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Germany's Russia Policy under Angela Merkel: A Balance Sheet

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Germany's Russia Policy under Angela Merkel: A Balance Sheet

Article excerpt


Germany's Russia policy is in flux. In the past, Germany has always been an advocate of Russian interests in the European Union and a strategic partner in energy and economic cooperation. Over the last few years, though, we have observed increasing misunderstandings in bilateral relations, with both sides speaking about the same topics but having different priorities and interests. This has become particularly visible with the modernisation partnership that is the key project of Berlin's Russia policy: while Germany wants to develop projects with best practices that modernise Russia's economic and political system, Russian elites are primarily interested in technology transfers. This is combined with a decreasing interest in and knowledge of Russia among Germany's political elite. German businesses still find profit in Russia, but frustration about the ongoing lack of domestic reforms and the lack of progress in establishing rule of law and transparency is growing. The change in Germany's energy policy towards increased renewables and energy efficiency, coupled with Gazprom's inflexible policies, will have an important impact on German-Russian relations in the future.

The old consensus among the German elite that Russian integration in Europe is key to European security (as a fundamental basis of Germany's "Russia-first policy") still exists, but Germany lacks ideas on how to influence the Russian reform process. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Germany has developed an integrative policy towards Russia influenced by the "Ostpolitik" of Willy Brandt.1 The successful concepts of the 1970s and 1980s known as the policy of "change through rapprochement" ("Wandel durch Annäherung") are not feasible with the political and economic system under Vladimir Putin. The re-election of Putin as Russia's president in March 2012 and his rigorous policies against opposition and non-governmental organisations exacerbate disagreements within German political elites about their Russia policy. At the same time, social change in Russia opens the chance to evaluate previous German policy and find a new approach on the basis of a realistic assessment of the developments in Russia.

In this article, I analyse whether the current German approach towards Russia has been successful. The key question is whether there have been any changes in the policy during the Christian Democratic-Liberal government since 2009 and if so, what those changes mean for the continuity of German-Russian relations? First, I elaborate how the German government since 2009 has conceptualised its Russia policy. The second part looks into the knowledge in Germany about developments in Russia. The third section analyses German discourse on Russia, while the fourth part describes the role of German business in this relationship. The fifth underlines the changes in German-Russian energy relations and the sixth part examines the current concepts in Germany's Russia policy and the limits of their efficacy. In the conclusion, the question is answered how a more successful German Russia policy should look like.

The Limits of the "Strategic Partnership"

With the establishment of a Christian Democratic-Liberal government coalition (CDU/CSU and FDP) after parliamentary elections in 2009, relations between Germany and Russia moved away from their special partnership. With Angela Merkel, sobriety replaced the personal relationship between Helmut Kohl and Boris Yeltsin as well as that of Gerhard Schröder and Vladimir Putin. During Dmitry Medvedev's presidency, Merkel tried to limit meetings with Russian Prime Minister Putin to signal that she supports the "new, modern Russia" instead of the "old, Putin Russia." The role of the Foreign Office in Germany's Russia policy has changed under Liberal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. He has tried to distinguish himself with trips to smaller countries in the region but was never able to emphasise Germany's Russia policy. …

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